As we’ve discussed before, creativity comes with a great deal of getting inspired, borrowing, and sometimes straight out stealing.
But who is to say that a derivative work cannot be equally as satisfying as the original? As long as the pieces are different enough, is it fair to say a certain one is better?
Take for instance the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera The Mikado. The composers set the opera in Japan, far away from Britain, allowing them to satirize British politics more freely by disguising them as foreign notions.
Opera Australia’s 2011 production of The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan.
In 1939, the classic was adapted into a new piece entitled The Hot Mikado and performed with an all African-American cast. Primed with a lot more sass and a lot more swing, The Hot Mikado became a hit that is still performed to this day.
Now it’s been over 70 years since the original piece was given a facelift. Thus, theatres are still looking for ways to update the show and help it feel as novel and sexy as it was when The Hot Mikado first took the stage.
This recent production does just this by updating the 1940s American setting to a modern one that tips its hat to the original Mikado, complete with the “three little maids” in anime-style schoolgirl outfits. Up to you to decide which version you prefer – but I’d say there’s definitely room for both in the world of live performance.
Watermill Theatre’s production of The Hot Mikado in 2009
You know when you come across an album that shakes things up in the best possible way?
Anaïs Mitchell’s haunting and heartfelt Hadestown was just this kind of discovery.
This 2010 “folk opera” is Mitchell’s thoughtful retelling of the Eurydice and Orpheus myth, told through the lens of a post-apocalyptic distopia. Sad and beautiful like the lovers’ tale itself, the album is a highly-recommended gem.
We’re getting close to Valentine’s Day. Of course that means we’ll have those few who are grumbling “what’s so great about it anyway?” Whether you’ve got a special someone or if you’re celebrating your own awesome self this year, it’s always helpful to take stock of how much better your life is than those of these classic couples of the stage. By definition, these couples needed to have drama going on in their lives.
Romeo and Juliet, Romeo & Juliet
Ah young love. What could be more romantic than hiding your crush from Daddy since he’s not too fond of your new beau? Super cute until you learn that faking your own death sends your quick-to-react boyfriend to pull a little stunt of his own. If you’re still alive, than you already have it better than either of the main characters in this Shakespearean classic.
Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow, Carousel
Boy meets girl. Girl lets boy put arm around her on the carousel and gets banished from the ride. Boy mocks his boss at the carousel and gets fired from his job. Thus begins this charming love story. But ah, soon the two are wed! And Billy only gets involved with a little bit of robbery, wife-beating, and gambling – nothing enough to stop their love. Billy kills himself after a theft-gone-wrong, leaving the now pregnant Julie alone. And while second act sees Billy sent back down to earth to redeem himself, this love story ending is no where nearly as charming as Ghost (maybe a sexy pottery scene would’ve helped).
Porgy and Bess, Porgy and Bess
Bess, a beautiful cocaine addict, meets Porgy, a sweet disabled beggar, after her ex-boyfriend/dealer kills another man over a game of craps and flees. Porgy falls madly in love. Bess can’t decide if she prefers the more glamorous life of gamblers and drug dealers. She shows her love through the little things – like going to a picnic across the lake and leaving Porgy behind when his disability prevents him from getting on the boat. But nothing stops Porgy from loving that woman. He seeks her out endlessly, even when she leaves for New York with another drug dealer. If your love life is less coke-fueled, and a little bit more reciprocal, you’re already doing better than good ol’ Porgy and Bess.
Jane and Edward Rochester, Jane Eyre
Charlotte Bronte’s famous tale has been adapted for the stage, yes. Meaning these lovebirds qualify as some of the theatre’s most tragic. Jane, once an abused orphan, is now a bookish governess. She goes to work for the “gruff-on-the-exterior-but-of-course-he’s-got-a-heart-of-gold” Rochester. They fall deeply in love then Ed lets an itty bitty secret slip out on their wedding day: he’s already married…to a crazy lady…who now resides in the attic. Jane gets mad and runs away. Years of broken-heartedness later, she returns after hearing that a fire destroyed Rochester’s mansion, killed his (other) wife, and left him blind. Love triumphs. If you have successfully avoided polygamy, horrendous natural disasters, or losing your eyesight – you’re doing worlds better than these two.
Aida and Radames, Aida
Seen in both opera and musical theatre, this love story follows Aida, an Ethiopian princess who is captured and enslaved in Egypt, and Radames, a sexy Egyptian hunk. Forget that Radames is supposed to be loyal to the Pharaoh, or that the Pharaoh’s daughter has the hots for him. Forget that Aida should probably be pissed off that his kingdom is trying to force her into slavery. Their love is so wrong it’s right. Eventually, Pharaoh sentences Radames to death and the two are buried alive. If your room still has air in it, you’re doing just fine.
Peter Pan and Wendy, Peter Pan
I’m not even going to touch the potential Oedipus complex going on here.
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As we continue around the globe, we find ourselves meeting up with some of the most incredible set design you’ve ever seen – in Bregenz, Austria.
The city is known for its long tradition of Opera on the Lake, productions that take place on a floating stage anchored in Lake Constance. The opera stages are built every two years and must house not only the performance space for the actors, but also the costume and dressing rooms, machine rooms, and the orchestra pit for the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
The set must strictly follow the following provisions:
- The floating stage must be at least 2/3rds larger than a normal stage
- The house seats 6,800. Everyone in the audience (even those in the nosebleed seats) must be able to see the stage action.
- The set construction has to allow for quick and silent scene changes (there is no curtain)
- The stage has to be able to survive extreme weather conditions during the two-year production runs including thunderstorms, harsh rains, and up to 20 inches of snow and below freezing temperatures
- The set must weigh as little as possible. Designers have to consider that while concrete, brick and solid wood are weatherproof, they may prove too heavy to float
Take a look at these incredible stages through the years. Talk about a brilliant design team.
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